Busy Summer Activity Bucks Recent Historical Trend
Historically, summertime is generally a quiet period around the Center, but this year the level of weekly activity is bucking that former annual trend. The Center has been busy since reopening for private events back in late April. We have hosted several parochial, high school, and college graduation celebrations and birthday parties since late May, along with many memorials for loved ones delayed during pandemic restrictions of the last year.
While Wawona Gates each Saturday is our weekly mainstay public event supporting ongoing operations and an expanding Irish cultural program, there are now several private events bookending our own activity. During the week, the Center is bustling from early morning to late afternoon, as the kids attending Camp Edmo are busy moving from one activity to the next throughout the building. EDMO is a national education nonprofit that organizes summer camps for kids, and we will host the group until early August.
We continue to develop our partnerships with local Irish American community organizations, and pride of place this month goes to our friends at the SFBALEES (San Francisco Bay Area Law Enforcement Emerald Society). On June 12th, the Emerald Society, spearheaded by President John Hallisy and Vice President Kevin Lynch, held a very successful day of music, song, and dance at Wawona Gates celebrating the club’s Irish heritage. A great line-up of local Irish musicians including Ivor Collins, Eoin O’Sullivan, and Brian Lynch provided the entertainment on the day. The Emerald Society supplied several volunteers including John Hallisy, Kevin Lynch, Joan Cronin, Val Kirwan, and Patrick Burke to ensure the day was a huge success.
The return of the John and Maureen Kennelly Memorial Irish dance Feis to the Center, late last month after an absence of two decades, was another well-attended event. Two hundred young dancers from across California, Nevada, and Oregon competed, many in preparation for the National Irish dance championships in Arizona this month. The annual Kennelly Feis is normally organized and scheduled away from the Center due to the need for a large facility to accommodate the number of entrants. Due to a capped number of entrants, it was possible to host the Feis once again, and as the organizer, Patricia Kennelly said, “It was great to come home to the Center after such a long hiatus.” It is certainly a huge win for the Cultural Programming team at the Center this year to get a Feis back into the building.
On Saturday, June 19th, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of Wawona Gates, our outdoor dining and event space, with an all-UICC volunteer cast line-up. Like many hospitality and cultural event spaces across the country, the UICC was scrambling this time last year to stay afloat as restrictions to indoor events and any activity was very limited. The Center was fortunate to have a parking lot to create an outdoor dining space which later became an outside cultural event space when gathering restrictions eased up. No mention of Wawona Gates can forget the three Board members who became the regular event leads and who staffed it voluntarily all year — Mark and Molly Burke, along with Josephine Brogan. In short, it was a herculean effort to be open three days a week (Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons), but we had no other choice, as otherwise we would have had to put the locks on the doors of our beloved Center.
We cannot forget all the other board members and volunteers that regularly helped out on weekends, which all went a long way to pay the bills and keep the Center going during the dark days of the pandemic. Without Wawona Gates, it’s fair to say we would have been in serious financial trouble. It’s great to now look back and feel proud of the fact that we were able to keep things going and the Irish flag flying over the Center.
The Irish Center Irish Summer Camp, a new initiative this year from the Cultural Programming Dept., was an outstanding success. For its inaugural year, the camp was held inside the beautiful St. Cecilia’s Collins Center on 18th Ave. We had more than 30 kids participate during the three-week period which catered to children between the ages of 7 and 14. The camp culminated in an entertaining concert with a capacity crowd held at the Irish Center on Friday, June 25th. The show, produced by the camp leaders and campers themselves, was a look at “Ireland in the Rare Ould Times.” What an experience for all the campers, learning about Irish history through drama, music, song, and dance. There were rave reviews about the camp overall. I spoke to many parents before and after the concert, and many said that their child had an amazing experience at the camp. Statements like “They loved it,” “They never came home and said they were bored,” “Wake me up early for Camp tomorrow,” and “Mom, sign me up for Irish summer camp next year!” were just some of the feedback.
The preplanning work on the proposed 2025 development project is ongoing behind the scenes with the building group and architects. Redmond Lyons (welcome back from your recent trip to Ireland) and Leo Cassidy are driving the project forward with Studio BANAA on a weekly basis as the floor plans and layout of the interior of the building are refined and tweaked. The Project 2025 group hopes to formally apply to the city for a permit to redevelop in mid-July, all going well!
We recently had a topographic and soil survey undertaken at the Center to help prepare for the formal application to the San Francisco Building Department. Redeveloping and rebuilding the Center is a very complicated process, and there are so many things to happen prior to putting a shovel in the ground for the new building. Suffice to say it is no small undertaking, and I’m so glad to have Redmond and Leo in the driving seat here.
We continue to monitor the feedback provided by our members to our online survey at www.irishcenter2025.org. Many thanks to all those who have taken the time to review the conceptual designs and drawings and made suggestions. We have included the reviews and comments with the building group and the architects in our weekly meetings.
On a final note, I want to wish all the members a happy and safe 4th of July celebration.
Liam Reidy, President